Sunday, January 22, 2023

Jarvis Cocker - Singles column - Melody Maker - October 27 1999

Singles... Reviewed by Jarvis

Melody Maker, 27 October 1999

[no idea who did the written bits that preface Jarvis speaking - which are in quotation marks - ghastly specimens of that late-stage-UK-music-press shouty-coarse comic mode)

Travis: Turn

Highpoint of "The Man Who", owns a City and Guilds in Advanced Showstopping and bombastic enough to blast holes through Neptune.

"This sounds like Travis. Slightly maudlin. It's difficult because initially when you hear their songs, you find them quite dull, but they do often become quite catchy the more you hear them. It was good that it ended when it did, because it had elements of wanting to be an anthem, and I thought it was gonna go on for another three minutes with a big guitar solo. Not really my cup of tea, but I've no doubt it'll do very well. They get played a lot on Radio 2 and I tend to listen to Radio 2 these days. It didn't offend me, but it didn't grab me either." 3.5/5

Five: Keep On Movin'

Giving up on their dream of being an EMF who wash, Five break out the sitars, the gospel backing singers and a strange squeaking noise like a Pekinese being startled with a radish.

"It must be a boy band because you get a different voice coming in on the second verse. Everybody has to have a turn, don't they? I haven't got a clue because that's not my scene. That's got the worst guitar sound ever at the beginning of it. Oh, it's Five (Sings a snippet of Everybody Get Up). Well out of five, I'd give that a one. It wasn't as good as 'Everybody Get Up', was it? That was just bland." 1/5

Dixie Chicks: Ready To Run

Sounds like Dolly Parton collaborating with B*Witched, if you can imagine the unspeakable pan pipe'n'pedal steel hell that entails. The Dubliners must've shagged Garth Brooks and then, nine months later, shat the Dixie Chicks out of their stinking, bloated, fiddly-diddly arses.

"This is absolute shit. I would've thought it was B*Witched, but they've only just released a single, haven't they? Is it Shania Twain? Younger than that? Give me the first letters of the first and second name. D and C? Dirty Cows? I feel like I'm in an Irish pub. And that bloody violin's a bit piercing. Violins at a clog dance is all right and quite a lot of ELO wasn't bad, were it? You can imagine it in those certain kinds of plastic theme bars, a very sanitised kind of pretend folk. Not keen. They look very healthy, though." 1/5

Guided By Voices: Hold On Hope

Hang on. So Alan McGee signs some past-it old codgers who can't remember what a proper recording studio looks like, leaves them alone to do whatever the f*** they like for a few months, and they come back with the best song of their career?!?! Shurely shome mishtake?

"Is it Semisonic? Has it got a chorus? You'll have to tell me who this is. Guided By Voices? I've heard the name but I've never heard them. It's all right. It sounds like the singer's trying to be John Lennon, I'm sorry to insult them by comparing them to Semisonic. Not particularly my bag, but all right. I'd imagine it would be a hit. They didn't always play the chords you'd expect, so there was a bit of imagination. And there was one bit of tune which was quite nice. I wouldn't buy it, but I wouldn't turn it off the radio." 1/5

Ricky Martin: Shake Your Bon-Bon

ARRRREEEEBAA!! The rubber-limbed Latin Lothario with the mile-wide mouth and a cock the size of a carnival float returns to shaft us soundly up the vida loca with his sexy salsa heel-clickin' shenanigans.

"Did he say 'Latin lover?' Is it Ricky Martin, then? 'I wanna lay ya in the Himalayas'? That would be a bit cold, then, wouldn't it? You could shag a yeti. It's not as good as 'Livin' La Vida Loca', is it? Did I live la vida loca? Oof, not half. My hands were the colour of ochre afterwards, No doubt it will be a big hit because he's the star of the moment, isn't he? Out of five, I'd give that two and a half. The extra half for the line about wanting to lay you in the Himalayas." 2.5/5

Bows: Britannica

Mumsy! That evil zombie clone of Dot Allison is in the wardrobe again! She's gonna get me with her spooky and rather pointless intelligent drum'n'psycho-violin'n'bass!

"It's all right. I don't think it's particularly original. The sounds are quite nice, but, for me, it's standing in that mid-range of being not terrible but not particularly grabbing. I can imagine it being played in a wine bar. I wouldn't throw up, but I probably wouldn't wont to stay all night." 3/5

The Crocketts: Nintendo Fallacy

Ah, that's better. Lovely soothing music box tinkles like ickie sugar plum fairy-waries playing hopscotch on Camberwick Green until - aaaaaarrgghhhh! - the Satan bastard offspring of Feargal Sharkey descends atop a flaming guitar of solid shite! Epileptic Molko anyone?

"The start was nice, it's gone downhill a bit now. If they got rid of the fuzzy guitar, it wouldn't be so bad. You keep thinking it's gonna go into a Sparks song as well. It's better than Semisonic, but it's got a poor chorus and the Larry The Lamb bit didn't do him any favours. The Crocketts? That's a bad name to call yourself. You're asking to be called a crock of shit, aren't ya? A bit jangle, weren't it?'' 3/5

Shola Ama: Still Believe

Shola still believes in love. Not all that impressive, unless she's spent the past year going to Hefner gigs with Damon Albarn. Can she die now, please?

"So this is a lady solo artist. Initials? SA? Shirley Arkwright? Sheila? Sarah? Oh, Shola Ama! Well this is dull, innit? It's got a gospel choir on it, which is a very big turn-off for me, especially after all that rock gospel stuff this year. It's hard for me to judge this sort of music because I don't know anything about it. It's that kind of mid-paced, pleasant nothingy type song. Can it stop? She hasn't had anything out in quite a while, has she? I wouldn't say it's a very strong return." 2/5

Beck: Sexxlaws

Ahhh, what's liddle Beck, the kooky chameleon, gone and done this time, eh? Northern soul trumpets? Bit Dexys, bit Radleys? Still an easy challenge for our Jarv, who has decided to guess the acts as they appear.

"The singing sounds like Beck. I haven't heard this before. That's unusual for him. When the brass started, I was afraid because I don't really like brass, but the banjo balanced it out. I'd probably have to hear that a few times. It must be hard because there's so many people trying to rip him off now. Was it Embrace who've done a song that sounds like a really shit version of Beck? That's f***ing appalling that song, especially the kazoo. That does go quite close to being pastiche, but it's got a few little twists and turns in it, a few daft noises and I do like the banjo." 3.5/5

Soothsayer: Can You Dig It

Boo Yakka! The Weird Al Yankovic of rap goes that one step beyond the page and sounds like Pop Will Eat Itself! In spooky voices! Nurse! The anti-skunk paranoia serum!

"It had worrying elements of being wacky. Some of the words and that weren't bad, but the music seemed really pedestrian in the background. I suggest he gets a better DJ. (Checks credits) Dr Israel should go back to his kibbutz. He wants to get someone with a little bit more funk." 2.5/5

Urusei Yatsura: Yon Kyoku Iri EP

Starts like a heavy metal Fun Lovin' Criminals, before diving joyously into the acid pool of Hiroshima death noizzze in which all Scottish musicians, apart from Travis and Runrig, are required to bathe thrice a day.

"UY? Urban Youth? Unavoidable Yawn? Can we stop it, please? That was crap. Just the most basic, indie sludge. Sounds like it could've happened any time in the last 10 years and it would still have been bad." 1/5

Jungle Brothers: Get Down

OK then, how about a jazz rap reworking of Kool And The Gang's "Get Down On It' with sporadic Charleston interludes and the sound of someone pissing against a wall?

"That's cheating, having someone else's chorus. The piano is all right, but the rapping is poor... This is a group, with the initials...? JB? Oh, it's them, innit. Jizz Bucket. The Jungle Brothers? They're supposed to be good, aren't they? That were crap. The best bit was the 'Get down on it' but I'd prefer to listen to the original version. It's all right when they take a song that you wouldn't be allowed or want to listen to and make something good out of it, but when it's like this, when the original song is quite good... that gets a one." 1/5

Junior Carter And West Street Mob: Breakdance Electric Boogie

'On your knees! On your back!' intones a vocoder robot like a Beginner's Guide To Breakdancing for morons. Jon Carter from Wall Of Sound is behind this, apparently. He deserves to be about six feet under it.

"If I had me piece of lino with me, I could do a bit of breakdancing, bit of robotics. I say they should've left it alone, not bothered remixing it. Fast forward to the B-side [Roots Manuva remixing 'The Message' by Grandmaster Flash]. Well, they've done a good job of screwing up that song, haven't they? The original of that was quite edgy, but they've made it into a lounge jazz thing. Bad idea. Just re-release the original one, I'd say. I'll never breakdance again." 1/5

Birth: Sweet Idol

A trip-hop version of early-Eighties soft rock types Godley And Creme. If you can conceive a concept more worthy of kneecapping, then send it in to the usual address and you could win a trip round to Birth's house with a chisel!

"A group beginning with B? The Bogards? Bulimia? BSE? Birth? More like after-birth. Sounds like a Semisonic B-side to me. Bland, yet offensive, which is quite a feat. Maybe it's fatigue setting in." 1.5/5

The Dumper (This week's absolute stinker!)

Semisonic: Closing Time

Beelzebub's own drinking tune.

"This sounds familiar as well. Is this Semisonic? It is! It's all in the name with that band. When has anything semi been good? A semi-lob-on, a semi-final, it's always halfway to something. It's semi-music, semi-good, which is no good at all. That's the worst one because it'll get played on the radio and it'll impact on my day in a bad way." 0.5/5

Jarvis' Single Of The Week...

Ian Brown: Love Like A Fountain

'Am I coming home yet?' sniffles rock's favourite former jailbird, his vocals muffled as if having his face pushed onto the floor of a shower cubicle. Then he's off on the techno chain gang, dreaming of soaring over those barbaric walls on wings of gilded melody. Pity, then, that he still sings like a crackgibbon with its nads stapled to a burning lamp-post.

"I've heard this one before. This is Ian Brown, isn't it? Yeah, I quite like this one. Let's see the picture."

No oil painting, is he?

"He is now. Yeah, I like that one. Everybody's always slagging his voice off, but think he's got a good voice. It was good in The Stone Roses because without his voice it just would've sounded like a heavy metal group. There's always been a dance element to his music. I don't know who did the picture but I like that too. It's a bit of a Crying Boy picture." 4/5


  1. Quite a bit to unpack here. Jarvis can't think of a good group beginning with B? The repeated references to Semisonic (must every expat bar in a non-Anglophone country end the night with Closing Time? And did Secret Smile mean vagina?)? The Guided by Voices review arbitrarily given 1/5? Ricky Martin's kid-friendly Latino vaudeville reckoned as being phallocentric? Was this just before people realised Beck was a Scientologist? Travis were a major band? Everyone happily lying about the Stone Roses always having dance elements, just because they're embarrassed to mention the Happy Mondays? Shola Ama?

    On a side note, what is the best song to use the The Message sample? Today I heard Coi Leray's Players, and thought it was a corker, but then I looked up the lyrics and felt slightly depressed.

    More seriously, wasn't Jarvis at the forefront of what we would now call poptimism? His championing of Scott Walker and Burt Bacharach definitely fed into the indie girl mindset which would later embrace Kylie, Girls Aloud, Taylor Swift and ultimately Britney? And is anyone else rather tired of poptimism? Yes, you praise listenability, but it's not as if rock sought to sound unpleasant to the ear.

  2. Evidence of the limits of poptimism. Yes, not the coolest band, and I don't don't her sincerity, but she's clearly adrift.

    Oh, since you have heralded the crossover between black and white artists, do you champion Mariah Carey's love of Def Leppard? At least Mariah would have sung Def Leppard with some gusto.

  3. I agree about those introductory comments. What's with all this wishing death on people just because you dislike their music? Also, these soul-shrivelling phrases like " Satan's bastard offspring ". The irony is that Jarvis' laconic charm shows up the mean-mindedness of such scornful prattle.
    I think it might be the bad influence of Bill Hicks - Very much a hip name to drop around the late nineties. Hicks' routines lacerating such teenybop favourites as Debbie Gibson or the New Kids, or his depiction of Vanilla Ice
    " sucking Satan's pecker " did have a transgressive intensity that confronted low expectations and capitulation to cultural blandness, in a similar manner to Patrick Bateman's bizarre mini-essays on the works of Huey Lewis & The News and other MOR hit-makers. The problem is that those without Bill Hicks' comic brilliance were convinced that they were making some kind of statement just by being relentlessly unpleasant towards soft musical targets.

  4. Agreed, although FWIW I don't find Cocker particularly charming here, either. Why was the MM killed off within about a year of this? It's a mystery

    1. Actually, now you mention it, this was Jarvis around the time of This Is Hardcore when he seemed to be in an almighty glum-faced sulk. It would be a few years before his transition from glam-disco lounge lizard to tweed-jacketed indie Alan Bennett. In between, there was the moody phase.
      This Is Hardcore?? What an odd record that is. Like lounge music in the grip of a neurotic breakdown.

    2. I actually quite like This Is Hardcore - and that’s a brilliant title - but as you say it is a deeply strange, dark, intense record, that seems to come from a very dark time in Cocker’s life. Although the delayed follow-up We Love Life is much more cheery, and is IMO also pretty good.

  5. Preaching to the choir here Stylo, it was being tired of those kind of attitudes that made me weaponize "poptimism" and "poptimists" as terms back in the early 2000s (some have said that I coined the term but I don't think that's true - but certainly what was intended as insult ended up being embraced as positive identity by my "foes", so that backfired!).

    But I think back in the early '90s the kind of playful revisionism about pop (Bacharach better than the Doors, Sweet better than the Stooges etc) was at least a refreshing attitude, when you got it from Saint Etienne, Denim, World of Twist and Pulp. And Jarvis was earlier than anyone - going on about Serge Gainsbourg, Bacharach, easy-listening, etc etc way back in the '80s, when probably the only other person talking that talk would have been Momus.

    It's hard to read tone off print but "there's always been a dance element" is almost certainly ironic because it had been a huge cliche for a decade, a music press joke.

    1. Yeah, I'm a litle embarrassed at not having clocked our Jarv's sardonicism in the article.

      Changing subject, you recently said that the Byrds have fallen off everyone's radar in recent years. If that is true (and I'm not currently persuaded that it is), do you think Crosby's death may spark a revival? It seems to me that the posthumous discussion of his legacy has focused on CSNY, and that strikes me as the accurate focus, for both historical and artistic reasons.

    2. I don't know, but it is striking compared with how Byrds-y things were in the 1980s, when everything was jingle-jangly, how they don't seem to be audible as an influence in today's indie. Perhaps it's there second-hand or third-hand. There seems to be a '90s-ism creeping back in indie so maybe people will get it via My Bloody Valentine or Teenage Fan Club. In terms of 21st Century indie-DIY-alt type music, the only example I think of is Ariel Pink who is a big Byrds fan and if I recall right has a few quotes from their music in certain songs - an actual sample in one, and then an interpolation (i think a bit from lead guitar from "Eight Miles High") in another.